Life is certainly not easy in the world that we live in today. In addition to worrying about internal matters, such as finances, marriage, children, or employment concerns, we also worry about external matters, such as global warming, terrorism, disease, and politics. Stressful circumstances, tense environments, and strained relationships have a tendency to become overwhelming for individuals. When people are besieged by stress, they often develop emotional and mental symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger along with physical symptoms such as impaired sleep, low libido, and gastrointestinal issues. Some individuals are genetically predisposed to handle stress well, as they are endowed with a certain personality type, grew up in an emotionally healthy environment, and have an arsenal of healthy coping mechanisms. Contrarily, other individuals handle pressure poorly and can become incapacitated and unable to partake in daily functioning. These individuals possess no means of coping and become paralyzed when stressors become seemingly insurmountable. Thankfully, coping skills can be acquired at any point in life and can greatly assist individuals during moments of distress. Here are several tips on how to calm down when you are feeling helplessly overwhelmed.
Deep breathing is a powerful way to reduce physical feelings of stress within the body. Deep breathing triggers the body’s relaxation response via a series of messages to the brain. Deep breaths summon the brain to calm down and in turn, the brain sends messages back to the body to release tension. Deep breathing is a simple technique to learn, can be employed anywhere, and only takes a few minutes to employ. Deep breathing can also be paired with other activities such as yoga, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation for further stress release.
Yoga is a great coping mechanism that enables individuals to relax their mind, body, and spirit. Certain postures and stances are designed to relax the body, while meditation and mindfulness assist people in focusing on the here and now. Yoga assists individuals to hold postures, focus awareness on their breathing, and precipitates a more relaxed mental and emotional state. Mindfulness techniques are said to reduce stress, while enhancing emotional strength. Mindfulness allows people to become aware of their thought processes, teaches individuals how to think before acting, and assists in improving focus. Mindfulness helps people to focus on the present instead of worrying about what happened in the past, or what may transpire in the future. Progressive muscle relaxation is a stress reducing technique that pairs deep breathing with periodic tensing and relaxing of muscle groups in the body.
Another way for individuals to cope with overwhelming feelings is to distract themselves by participating in healthy, enjoyable, and worthwhile activities. Reading, listening to music, or taking a walk, are several examples of fun activities that invoke positive feelings. Exercise is another effective coping strategy, as it reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, while releasing endorphins, thus elevating mood.
Altering one’s thoughts is another effective coping strategy. Thoughts influence feelings, which shape overall behaviors. Irrational thoughts precipitate feelings of anxiety, which eventually lead to problematic behaviors and impaired functioning. If an individual were to change their thought patterns, they would be able to reduce overall feelings of stress, worry, and eliminate behaviors such as tearfulness, panic attacks, or impaired sleeping. In order to alter thoughts, an individual needs to first become aware of them, as one cannot change what they are oblivious to. Identifying and changing thought patterns can be accomplished in therapeutic settings, during mindfulness training, or by recording and challenging thoughts as they occur.
Unfortunately, stress goes hand-in-hand with life, as one cannot seemingly exist without the other. Thankfully, there are numerous coping mechanisms and techniques to assist individuals in leading happy and fulfilling lives.
Tracy Smith is a Licensed Professional Counselor and employed as a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in the mental health field and has worked in a wide array of settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy has worked with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the resistant adolescent population. Tracy enjoys facilitating groups, coming up with creative interventions, and is interested in creative art therapies, such as sand tray, play therapy, and psychodrama.